Archive for the ‘Motorcycles’ category

Debutante’s Ball

August 18, 2008

After a rather long delay, Brett did a last minute decision to race the “little” bike yesterday in regional CCS competition.

Other than safety wiring the necessary potential “fall off” items, removing the lights, fabricating a belly catch pan out of the bottom of a five gallon gas can, attaching number plates made from kitty litter jugs and an old broken race bike windshield (all last minute, quick and dirty modifications) the bike was perfectly stock – including tires.

I was on the road at 5 AM to arrive at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis, where Brett arrived with the bike just as the 7 AM rider’s meeting ended. He scurried over to complete registration before it closed and we got the bike up to tech inspection where he left it with me and ran off to don his gear for an 8:20 AM practice session.

Tech went smoothly and other than pointing out a couple of questionable safety wires, gave us the “good to go.” I commented that they were friendly and laid back, knowing that the Moto-ST series would probably have fined us $500 and barred us from the next three races – especially the Daytona group.

Brett returned and took the bike right from the inspection area onto the track for the 20- minute expert practice, cold tires and all. Nothing beats last minute activity.

Returning to the paddock area he had a few suggestions regarding the suspension setup – specifically that it all should be replaced. Both front and rear shocks were way too soft and under sprung – either that or he should drop about 40 lbs. He said that the front end was breaking loose on any rough surface and “chattering” as it slid across the bumps in the turns. Not enough suspension pressure to hold the wheel down. Additionally, the soft rear was dropping under hard acceleration, adding to lifting the front coming out of the turns. He didn’t have anything good to say about the stock front tire, either, and kept inspecting the left edge of it and shaking his head.

We noted that the gas can belly pan and the foot pegs were scraping at hard lean angles, which I found rather fascinating, as this bike sets really high. After all it is a Super-Motard, not a road racer.

Adding to the problems was the low gearing. We had gone with the highest gearing set-up that we had, but the bike was hitting the rev limiter in top gear long before the end of even the shorter straight.

Brett mentioned that the standard shift pattern was taxing his thinking a little, too. (Race bikes have reversed shifting – down for higher gear – to avoid trying to get a toe under the gear lever to up-shift coming out of a corner while at a high lean angle.)

We spent some time tightening up the rear shock spring, adjusting the rebound on front and rear and tinkering with the tire pressures. Tire warmers on and then going over to talk to the Dunlop people about the possibility of going with a different front tire. A closer look at the bike revealed a different setup for wheel removal and we didn’t have the right tools to change it, so decided to race with the stock tires. There’s nothing like the first outing on a new type of bike to get head scratching into top gear.

Grid assignment for Brett’s first race found him starting outside on the first row – and start he did. All I could see was the front wheel pointing way in the air and he couldn’t get it down. Wheel in the air all the way, he led the pack by several bike lengths into turn one. He told me later he couldn’t get his foot on the rear brake to use the “poor man’s traction control” to keep the front down. Also this was his first hole-shot on this bike. I think everyone there was really surprised to see the little 550 Motard lead the pack of 650s and 1200cc Buells around the first lap.

Two bikes finally got around him, drafting down the main straight and the race went on to completion in that order, Brett winning the third place trophy (actually about a 3″ X 2″ Brass plaque.)

Post race debriefing was about the same as from practice. Rear end was a little better, but the front wanted to go all the time – still the high speed chatter as the tire bounced up and down in the corners, attempting to tuck under. Brett was really disappointed with the low gearing, and the wide spread between the upper gears. On some of the shorter straights, he was having to up-shift as the bike was hitting the rev limiter, and then having to weave back and forth to keep the revs up by using the sides of the tire (smaller circumference.)

The afternoon race that Brett had entered was a different class – allowing more modifications to the engines and we anticipated tougher competition . . . and got it. All we had left to change in an effort to stiffen the front up was one turn of rebound adjustment – which didn’t make much difference. Again Brett got a decent hole shot, and while starting from the inside of the second row, led the short run down to turn one, but was passed by two bikes going into the turn. He spent a lot more time in this race attempting to get forward on the bike to shift more weight to the front, and held on to fifth place at the finish.

Not a really bad showing considering the last minute decision to go racing, and completely wrong setup in suspension and gearing. The bike has a lot of potential and Brett say’s it’s a blast to ride. The goal, both Brett’s and Aprilia’s is to slowly morph this little Super-Motard into a road racer, complete with full body work, clip-on bars and a lower race seat.

. . . and correct gearing and suspension.

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Well, This is the Pits!

November 7, 2007

Thought I’d give a little insight as to what goes on in a race when the rider gets bored and wanders back to flirt with all the little blond hotties that are always hanging around the pit crew.

In Moto-ST we are allowed six men over the wall and, depending upon what track we are at and whether the officials were treated well by their wifes/girlfriends the night before, that is sometimes interpreted to include the rider and sometimes not. Additionally, one of the six is required to be dedicated to pointing the fire extinguisher at all times. We found out at Road America that even the installation of a plastic wire-tie without the fireman activated can be a capital offense. (See the note on the bike photo page.)

Two of the crew will be busy fueling the bike. One will cross the wall with the dry-break fuel container and lifts it up for connecting to the tank. As these things are “dry” in name only, the second man guides the nozzle part into the tank fitting and wraps a bath towel around it in an attempt to control the gurgle, splatter, seep and splash of fuel as this thing drops four gallons of six-dollars-a-gallon-high-octane-gas in less than seven seconds. As he pulls the filler tank out, the towel man sops up the overrun, wipes off the tank and checks to see that the spring tank-lid has sealed to keep the crotch of Mike’s leathers dry – don’t ask, you really don’t want to know.

The other three crew members will be busy with either a tire change, or checking the bike over for any potential problems, especially taking a hard look for tire wear. If things are going well with the suspension setup and tire compound choice, the rear tire is usually changed at every other fuel stop. Front tires can usually make the distance in the three-hour races and are changed at least once in the eight-hour race.

For the three of us assigned to the tire change – here’s a “play-by-play” account from last year’s 8-hours at Daytona.

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Here’s the rear axle nut and safety pin on the #37 bike. Note just above the loop of safety wire on the pin is a bolt on top the swingarm. We milled a slot in the chain adjustment block and drilled and tapped for a bolt to go through the swingarm with it’s tip in the milled slot. This keeps the block from falling out during a tire change.

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On the other end of the axle, we have drilled and bolted the block to the axle, so it comes out as one unit.

As the bike screams into the pits and stops, Ted is the first over the wall carrying the rear bike stand, which he will place and raise the rear as the rider steps off. He’ll do this and inspect the tire, even on a “splash and go” (fuel-only stop.) If a tire change is needed, Ron will be next over with the new tire and wheel and will set it down against the wall, and I’ll follow last with the Hitachi impact gun fitted with a 32mm socket and a pair of pliers. I’ll hand the impact gun to Ted and go around to the other side of the bike. Ted will pull the safety clip out of the axle nut and spin the nut off with the impact gun, and tap the axle to start out with his palm as Ron slips his right front foot under the tire and takes the weight with his foot. I’ll pull the axle through and remove it from the bike as Ron shoves the wheel forward while Ted slips the chain off the sprocket and loops it out of the way on the swingarm. I have the pliers to grip the axle and help pull, as sometimes the axle threads hang up on the bearing races. Ron then angles the wheel to his right to clear the rear brake caliper and pulls the wheel out.

Ted will take the wheel from Ron and hand him the new one, which he will install, angling it again to the right to clear the brake caliper and then slipping the brake disc into the caliper. We have beveled the edges of the brake pads on a grinder so the disc will slip in easier. He will push the wheel forward a little as Ted slips the chain back onto the sprocket.

While this is going on, I have slipped the tip of the axle back into the swingarm and into the brake caliper mount to line them up. We have milled a slot into the caliper mount and installed a pin in the swingarm to keep the caliper in place, but there is about 1/8th inch slop in it, so I pre-align all of this with the axle.

As Ron attempts to align the wheel, I’ll tap the axle through with the palm of my hand, as Ted keeps alignment on his side and then starts the axle nut and torques it down with that slick Hitachi impact gun and slips the safety pin back into place.

20 to 30 seconds have gone by and we start back over the wall, taking our tools and the old wheel as Ted drops the stand and the bike is away.

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Front brake and axle safety pins on the #37 bike.

Front tire is a little more complicated and takes about twice as long. For this change, Ron takes the stand over the wall along with an impact gun with a socket for the axle pinch bolts. Ted has another impact gun with the 30mm axle nut socket and I have one for the brake caliper mounting bolts – I also carry a screwdriver and a 13mm wrench as a safety precaution, in case the prior torque on the caliper bolts is greater than the present state of charge on the gun’s battery – even though we change batteries between every pit stop.

I pull the brake caliper bolt safety pins as Ted grabs the handle bars and turns the front wheel toward him, so I can get the impact gun on the caliper bolts to remove them. As soon as I get the caliper off, I turn the wheel the other way and slide the impact gun under the bike so Ted can get his side. When he does, Ron puts the stand under the fork bottoms and raises it up as Ted removes the axle nut with the other impact gun.

Ron then loosens the axle pinch bolts and I pull the axle out as he removes the tire. As he trades wheels, Ted and I each inspect our respective brake pads and then push them back into the calipers with a screwdriver. Ron slips the new wheel in place and I shove the axle back through and then slip the brake caliper back on and finger tighten the mounting bolts as Ron drops the stand and snugs the pinch bolts. Ted, having also installed his caliper, torques the axle nut and turns the wheel toward me and torques his caliper, slides me the impact gun and turns the wheel back to him so I can torque my caliper. We then re-install all the safety pins and Ted pumps the front brake lever to seat the pads again.

Forgetting the brake lever pump is a good way to get even with the rider if he’s hogged all the attention of the blond hotties. Makes for some interesting activity when he exits the pit lane at the entrance to the Horseshoe at close to 100mph and finds he has no brakes at all.

With the bike back out, we take the wheels back to the Pirelli garage where they replace the tires with new ones – at over $300 per set. Returning them to the pit, we install tire warmers and reduce the air pressure to what ever we are running for the particular race. The pressure needs adjusted several times as the tires come up to temperature. It’s not uncommon to start with 28 lbs. of pressure and check it a few minutes later after the tire warmers have done their job, and see it’s raised to 50 lbs.

We refill the dry-break tank from our spare cans, then off to Sunoco in the golf cart to refill the spare cans.

And get ready to do it all over again.

Daytona – End of a Season

November 2, 2007

The Daytona 8-hour race weekend began in its usual stellar fashion for R & R Racing, i.e., front forks for the #76 bike lost somewhere in the mail system on their way to Canada for rebuild; Brett driving straight through from Illinois and arriving at the track at 8:30 AM; paint still wet on the #76 bike bodywork; and everybody wondering how they’ll make it home if we don’t win some prize money.

Mad scramble to unload the trailer, set up the tents, get the stickers and numbers on the bikes, make all the adjustments, safety checks, tech inspections, dyno runs, rider’s meetings and the hundred other things necessary to prepare for afternoon practice.

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Gridded up for practice – Mike on the #76 in back at right and Paul on the #37, second from left.

Practice went pretty well, nothing important fell off and no one was hurt, and the expected happened, such as the forks on the #76 bike need rebuilt and the rear shock needs re-sprung. The #37 bike needs stiffer front end and the rear is really squirrelly at speed on the banking.

Brett chooses to skip his turn on the bike, as he is pretty beat from the all-night drive and no sleep the night before. As his 20+ years of racing history includes a couple of laps on this track, a few laps more or less won’t really change much, except the track has been reconfigured a bit in the horseshoe entrance and infield exit. I expect he will pick that up quickly his first couple of race laps.

As the practice goes into the dark for a while, the riders notice that the #76 bike has a serious problem with headlight glare on the windshield. We are running the stock Aprilia windshield on this one and it has a small lip on the top – actually more of a small bead to give it strength. Unfortunately, our decision to mount the lights just in front the instrument cluster and behind the windshield caused a “fiber optic” type light transfer to this lip, and while it was an amazingly interesting display of light transfer phenomena, the riders all agreed that it was a “little” distracting – as in totally blinding! Running a piece of black electrical tape across it really didn’t seem to do much, so a decision was made to mount an extra light outside on the fairing. Hitting the bright-dim switch would turn the double lights (and glare) on, allowing passage though tech inspection and providing a nicely balanced photo-subject opportunity. However, for real world use, a flick of the switch turned off the cool pyrotechnics, and gave us a usable, albeit ugly, farm-tractor type light.

Naturally, the #37 bike again lost the light providing capability of its right side light, even after my best efforts in rewiring and bulb replacement the week prior. Incidentally, the little Halogen bulbs melted a place on the windshield on this bike, even with our best efforts of heat shield application. Another bulb replacement and rewiring attempt was made Friday night, but this light failed again during the race. Seems to be a pattern here.

Additional Friday night frantics included the removal of forks and complete rebuild as well as re-springing the rear shock.

Saturday’s short morning practice was ushered in with the usual Daytona-Practice-Rainstorm, and Brett wisely decided to use the time to reinstall forks, shocks, etc. and attend to last minute race preparation. His thoughts are that if the forecast for the race is not pretty definitely rain, then practicing in the rain only hurts you. Different braking points, corner entry, as well as a completely different riding style would not translate into anything usable in a dry race.

Afternoon saw the usual scramble to get the bikes out for the race. The track officials seem to think that 15-minute lead times for everything are a lot of fun. The P.A. system will boom out an announcement that everyone should set up the pits and get the bikes on the grid, as the race will start in 15-minutes. This results in a homesteader-land-rush-mad-scramble by some 400 people, all wanting to get tool boxes, coolers, tent awnings, tires, bikes and everything needed for the next eight hours set up and organized on pit row. This also happens after the race too, where an announcement that all riders are to report for photos is accompanied by the order to clear every thing out of the garage area in 15 minutes. It reminds me of Marine Corps boot camp.

Dave will start the #76 bike and Paul the #37 bike. As they take their places on the grid, everyone goes though a starting checklist; tire pressure, brakes pumped up, fuel . . .?

Fuel?

Paul takes a couple of fingers and shoves the dry-break down and gazes down into the empty tank just as they wave the crews off the grid and start the bikes out for the parade lap. He yells that he’ll be in a lap or two for fuel.

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Dave in the first laps on #76 – note the “tractor” light just above the number

And off they go – with Paul starting 10th and Dave 12th. By the end of the first lap, Dave is in 2nd place and will take the lead by lap 4, where he will pretty well stay until the first pit stop at lap16. By now he has already set the fastest lap of the race (as usual) on lap 9. He exits the pits in 8th place and takes the lead again on lap 28, only to dive back into the pits on lap 30 for fuel, new rear tire and rider change. The bike comes back out in 5th position and holds this steady until lap 72, when Mike pushes it back into the pits from the Horseshoe where it has left the best part of the new engine, replaced after the same experience at Homestead in April. End of the day for Dave, Mike and Darrin.

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Photo courtesy Kenn Stamp, editor Two Wheel Freaks

Meanwhile, we return to Paul’s plight, having begun the race with an empty tank, he drops a couple of positions – probably distracted by the bright “Low Fuel” warning light – and ducks into the pit on lap number 5 for the left behind fuel. He hasn’t hit his groove yet, so tells Brett to take over. Brett exits the pit well back in 37th place and goes to work making up time, passing someone almost every lap. By lap 25 he’s in 17th position when the comedy of fuel errors continues.

At Daytona, the pit boards have to be at the entrance to the Horseshoe as the main straight in front of the pits is too far away for signaling. Radio or even cell phone communication to the pit board holder is used to signal when to notify the rider of scheduled stops, etc. Usually, we have had several of the crew wife’s handle the boards, but today there is a “newbee” filling this position who misinterprets the call to signal Brett to pit for fuel as just a reminder to call the pit crew when Brett signals him that he needs fuel.

For want of a nail the shoe . . . and all that.

Being rather astute, Brett picks up on the communications problem pretty quickly when the engine suddenly dies from fuel starvation at close to 180 mph on the back straight, just before the chicane. To keep momentum going, he really blazed through the chicane. Normal entry to the chicane is made by very hard braking, and entering a bit slower so that the exit line can be straightened some, allowing for hard acceleration back onto the banking. Brett’s “out-a-gas-keep-it-going” line required no braking, and entering the chicane at high speed and cutting the exit corner a bit through the grass, front tire chattering all the way through and trying to slide out from under him.

Back on the banking he was able to lean the bike back and forth enough for the fuel pickup tube to sip a bit of fuel now and then, keeping some on-and-off power going, until it quit for good in NASCAR-4 turn. He coasted down the banking onto the “loooooong” pit entry and helped it about halfway down pit row with some one-foot, scooter style pushing. He ended up having to get off and push it the rest of the way, from about the tunnel on.

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John on the usual one head-lighted #37

Back out with a new rider, now down to 34th place. Back up to 25th to the lap #48 pit stop, and back out to struggle up to 19th position, which held until the stop on lap 64, where Brett once again took over.

His lucky day continued, with a stuck clutch while attempting to leave the pit. The bike revved, but refused to go. Pulling it in and releasing it again, got it to barely move forward until it suddenly caught, standing the bike straight up in an exaggerated wheelie. Clutch in and down it came, and he finally got under way. Of course there was a black flag waiting for him at the start finish line, the next time around – indication of a stop and go penalty for wheelies in the pits.

Short explanation/excuse here.

The officials insisted on using the overhead flagman’s position for the race, even after protests in rider meetings that they were unable to see the flags there. AMA, WERA and CCS races used a ground flagman at Daytona, but Moto-ST wanted the overhead stand used. Rider’s complaints that the flag was lost in the visual background clutter of the main grandstand – when they could relax enough to look up. Normal conditions required looking left, away from the flag stand into the slight dogleg at that position, preparing to stand hard on the brakes for turn one, and coming up on slower traffic at over 50 mph closing speed (in the case of our class.) All this fell on deaf ears, as Moto-ST is owned by the same group that owns the speedway. And, “By God, that’s our flag stand and we’re gonna use it . . . ”

The bottom line is that Brett went happily on his way, never seeing the black flag until a corner worker put up a large white sign for him at the exit from the infield back to the banking. He then did his stop and go penalty, however – as the rules only allow 2 laps after a penalty flag to serve that penalty, he forfeited the additional laps that he had taken, making it a 21-minute penalty, dropping the bike back to 32nd place. He did get in an “up yours” by picking the bike up in a wheelie upon entering the track at the completion of the stop and go, holding it through the short straight at the Horseshoe exit.

The rest of the race was relatively uneventful for Brett, Paul and John on the #37 bike (if this type of activity can ever be called uneventful) with one exception.

Remember last year, when Brett didn’t have a clear visor and ran his night stint with a dark visor? He had some good stories to tell about that! This year, he picked up Arai Helmet as a sponsor, who furnished him with new shiny head covers and spare visors. Now, remember the mad scramble to get set up at the race start? As Brett prepares to do his night shift – no clear visor. Probably back in the truck, or on the beach, or back home – who knows? But he did it once, so . . .

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Photo courtesy Kenn Stamp, editor Two Wheel Freaks
Here’s Brett geared for battle – dark visor and all.

Last year there were many complaints about the back straight, most noticeably the chicane, being very dark – especially for those fools with dark visors. This year a really bright light was mounted to shine across the track at the chicane. Unfortunately, it was a very directional type light and the experience as described by our dark-visored wonder boy was: “It was so dark on the back straight that when I saw the brake markers go by – 3 -2 and I really stood on the brakes and started to turn into the chicane, I then got into the light and found I wasn’t really there yet and had to get back on the throttle to get to the turn-in. Then it was super bright through the chicane until you exited, where you drove out of the light and it was suddenly totally black. Made for some interesting racing, but nothing a great rider couldn’t handle.”

. . . Or one with a clear visor. <sigh>

Go here for a close look at what goes on in our pit stops.

Speaking of Photos . . .

October 23, 2007

Here’s a couple of kids at the Mid-Ohio Superbike races a couple of years ago – Brett’s son Brandon and a kid named Nicky sharing a drink.nicky.jpg
(Thanks to Brett for the use of the photo)

One of them has already won the World Championship – we are waiting on the other.resize-of-nicky_rc212v_1.jpg

Follow up – Pink Biker

October 23, 2007

OK – now that we’ve all fallen in love with the 12-year-old on the pink KTM trail bike – here is the real story.

The amazing girl is actually a young South African lady who runs a motorcycle clothing and accessory store – catering to ladies. The photo was taken at the annual Johannesburg Toy Run, to collect toys for underprivileged children. This is a full-sized 950 KTM she calls Tonto.

And here she is – without the Tutu – on her Yamaha R6 (called Billy-Bob) doing some pretty serious bike riding.

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Envious?

October 19, 2007

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More Race Prep

October 16, 2007

Spent most of yesterday installing an LED light strip to act as a taillight as well as two tiny Halogen headlights on the # 76 bike. This Saturday’s race at Daytona will run into the late evening – thus requiring lights. I also replaced one of the lights on the #37 bike and chased down an electrical short.

We’ll probably be questioned again by the race officials on the taillight. At last year’s race they were pretty insistent that we had a brake light, which is not allowed. It took a little time to convince them that the LED taillight was causing that effect. As the bike went by the pits, the angle of viewing made the light look very dim, but by the time it got down to the entry to turn one, the viewing angle was more direct, and the full brightness of the LEDs could be seen, making it appear that the rider had hit the brakes for the turn. No problem, unless we get the Nazi official from Road America. (See the bike photo page for that story.)

Brett sprayed the white number plate background on the #76 bike body work, to match that of the #37 bike, except he put the single front plate on the opposite side. His optimistic reasoning being that if we placed 1st and 2nd, we could park the bikes together in winner’s circle and make a nice photo. Being the team curmudgeon, I’ll shoot a photo in the garage before the race . . . just in case.

Naturally we left the freshly painted bodywork hanging outside to dry, and went on our way. Brett called last night and said that by the time he returned to the shop, the afternoon thunderstorm had arrived and the wind had rolled the fresh paint through the grass.

Guess what today’s work schedule has in store?

Speaking of photos, take a look at the one below that I scanned from Motorcyclist. Notice the #9, green Kawasaki? Well, that’s ridden by several time national champion, Jay Springsteen, and the team is run by another muti-time national champion, Gary Nixon. I mention this in a combination whine and appreciation. Here’s that story:

The original rules for the Moto-ST series, named only specific bikes as being eligible – the Aprilia Tuono was named and is the one we are running. Now the Tuono (Italian for thunder) is the Aprilia Mille, stripped of the full fairing bodywork and with higher handlebars replacing the low clip-ons. Otherwise they are basically the exact same bikes.

Enter motorcycle legends, Nixon and Springsteen, who wanted their Kawasaki’s to look like Nixon’s old championship bike. To accommodate them, the rules were changed to allow aftermarket bodywork. Of course, this allowed us to basically change our Tuonos into Milles – however; we couldn’t just run a Mille.

Sheesh!

Additionally, you will notice the white number plate on the Kawaski, which runs in the middle class (ST), which specifies yellow number plates. The white ones are for the top (SST) class. They refused to run the yellow, as it didn’t go with their paint scheme.

And we were fined $500 because a portion of the Pirelli sticker was covered up when we changed bodywork?

How’s that work?